At 1 and 3 years old, my daughters naturally know their bodies are great. At 3, there isn’t a thing my older daughter doesn’t love about herself right now. When I asked her what she liked the very best about herself, she told me, “I can go potty all by myself.” She didn’t even register I was asking about how her body looks instead of what her body does. And my 1 year old? Well, she doesn’t talk yet, but the mess of slobber she left behind on my full-length mirror after giving herself countless kisses this morning is a pretty clear indication of how she feels.
I want my girls to love their bodies in ways even I am struggling to understand, because I am still struggling to accept my own postpartum body. Don’t get me wrong, I love that it gave me two fairly easy pregnancies and deliveries. I love that it housed two of the most precious gifts I have ever been given for 40 weeks and then produced milk to keep them healthy during their first year. I love that it not only brought life into this world — twice! — but it sustained those lives. I love that it did something no man could do. I love that it was stronger, braver, fiercer, and more courageous than I ever imagined.
But learning to love my body as it is now has been harder, stranger, and more frustrating than I imagined.
As much as I want all-encompassing self-love for my girls, I’m not naive — I know body-positive teenagers don’t just happen. In fact, 81 percent of fourth graders reported they were afraid of being fat in a study conducted by the Journal of the American Diabetic Association. A polarizing study like this is a reminder body-positive thinking is something that is taught, and now it’s not just my job to teach it my daughters, it’s my job to re-teach myself. My girls are teaching me how important body positivity is for me: their mom.
I want my girls to learn to love their bodies because I have modeled that for them. I want them to watch me smile in the mirror, pose happily for pictures, and slip confidently into my one- and two-pieces alike. I don’t want them to notice scale’s presence in my bathroom, how I avoid mirrors and pictures, or how I say “no” to circumstances that require a bathing suit.
I want my girls to always feel great when they see themselves in the mirror. I want them to always love how fast their legs take them places, and how great it feels to dance and run without inhibition or concern over what others think of them. I want them to see what I see: how wonderful their wild curls look around their heart-shaped faces. I want them to understand how being kind is way more important than conforming to a certain standard of beauty.
Two years and two kids later, my body looks quite a bit different. Learning self-love will be just as much a lesson for them as it will be for me. I want to look past the softer waistline, the changes in my breast shape and size, and the stretch marks that decorate my skin, but these new parts of my body cannot be easily ignored. I know they are here to stay, but it is taking me time to adjust to what I see when I look into the mirror.
At times I want to speed up this process. I want to be suddenly, magically, and completely comfortable with the numerous ways my body has changed over the last few years. I want loving my brand-new body to be simple, like the way my 1 year old showers her reflection in kisses, or how my 3 year old proudly proclaims the best thing she loves about herself. I wish I could just flip on a switch and love everything about my new shape. I want to confidently flaunt around in a swimsuit, unaffected by stretch marks and my softened skin. But here is the honest truth: I know loving my body as-is is important, I’m just not there yet.
If anything, my struggle to love my new shape has become motivation for me, fuel for teaching my daughters that all bodies are beautiful. The idea that there isn’t an ideal look or shape was not something I was taught growing up, and I don’t want them to ever struggle with self-acceptance the way I have. Maybe, while I am teaching them to love the fabulous bodies they were given, I’ll grow more comfortable in mine.
Images Courtesy of Mary Sauer (2)